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Indonesian Court Acquits Ex-Official Accused of Enslaving Addicts

A former official accused of imprisoning and enslaving 656 people on his estate in Indonesia under the guise of drug rehabilitation has been acquitted on charges of human trafficking, adding to concerns about the corruption that flourishes at the regional level in the country.

A three-judge panel on Monday found the former official, Terbit Rencana Perangin-angin, not guilty, a blow to those who had sought justice and compensation for imprisonment, abuse and forced labor.

“We are quite sad because in Indonesia, which has been an independent country for decades, there is still the practice of modern slavery, and this occurred in the home of a public official who has the responsibility to protect his citizens,” said Anis Hidayah, a member of Indonesia’s human rights commission.

The trial was conducted in Langkat Regency, a county-size district in North Sumatra where Mr. Perangin-angin long held sway as regent and some of his relatives held key positions of power.

After the judges read their verdict, Mr. Perangin-angin thanked them and knelt down in front of them, touching his head to the floor.

Prosecutors, who had sought a 14-year sentence and $140,000 in restitution, said they would appeal.

The case has highlighted how widespread corruption is at the regional level in Indonesia, where governors, regents and big-city mayors are often called “little kings.”

The cages were discovered in January 2022 when anti-corruption investigators searching for Mr. Perangin-angin in a separate bribery case stumbled on 65 men locked up on his estate. He was found guilty of bribery in that case, sent to prison and stripped of his office.

As regent, Mr. Perangin-angin had started a drug rehab program that promised free treatment. Some parents handed over their sons, hoping the program would help them overcome their drug addiction.

But victims said they were never given addiction treatment. Instead, they said they were locked up, beaten, tortured and forced to work at the former regent’s palm plantation, palm oil factory and residence. Some victims said they were sexually abused by men guarding them.

A police investigation found that 656 men and teenage boys were imprisoned during a 10-year period. Most were held for about 18 months. The human rights commission found that six prisoners died, including at least three who were tortured to death.

Indonesia’s witness and victim protection agency estimated that Mr. Perangin-angin’s businesses made $12 million from the captives’ unpaid labor.

“This decision does not provide a sense of justice for the alleged victims, as is their right,” said Antonius Wibowo, vice chairman of the agency, which assisted many of the victims and shielded their identities.

Guards at the cages on Mr. Perangin-angin’s estate included off-duty soldiers and police officers, as well as members of a youth organization known for extortion and headed by Mr. Perangin-angin. Dozens of perpetrators who were named by victims have never been prosecuted. Among those who have faced charges, three years has been the longest sentence handed down.

The former regent’s son, Dewa Rencana Perangin-angin, was convicted of torturing a man to death and sentenced to 19 months’ imprisonment. He was released after serving half his sentence.

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